See How You Can Preview Message Attachments in Outlook 2007

The ability to ‘take a peek’ at a file attached to a message is one of the simple and convenient benefits of upgrading to Outlook 2007. When I say you can take a peek at an attachment, I mean that you have the ability to preview attachments inside of the Outlook Reading Pane, without having to use the program the attached file is normally used with.

For example, send me a Word document as an attachment, and I can preview the contents of the document right inside Outlook without having to start Word. Compare this to the process with older versions of Outlook, where you couldn’t see the contents of an attached Word document without starting Word and viewing it there. The same attachment previewing capability is there for Excel spreadsheets and several other kinds of files that people often email back and forth.

Why is this new approach a big improvement? There are two reasons. First, you can preview attachments much faster and more conveniently than finding and launching the native program for the attachment file type, then opening the attachment in that program. Second, it is just a more intuitive way to do your work.

If you’re wondering how it is possible to preview attachments without using the programs the attachments work with, there’s a simple explanation. Outlook 2007 comes with a set of attachment previewers, little programs that give a basic view of the contents of a file. They don’t have the ability to edit the file, and won’t necessarily show the contents exactly the way they’ll appear in the full application that normally opens the file.

Outlook 2007 comes with attachment previewers for major Microsoft Office files, plus previewers for common image and text file types. And some other companies have also created attachment previewers for their own file types that you can download. In other words, for most of the attachments you’re likely to receive, you should already have, or be able to get, an attachment previewer that will let you preview it without leaving Outlook.

Once the attachment previewer you need is installed, using it is simple. When you have a message containing an attachment visible in the Reading Pane, Outlook displays a set of buttons at the top of the pane. The Message button shows you the body of the message when you click it. In addition to the Message button, each attachment gets its own button. These buttons are labeled with the name of the attached file.

The button you click determines what appears in the Reading Pane. Click Message to see the body of the email message. Click an attachment’s button to get a preview of the attachment. It’s all nice and easy, but you need to know that the attachment preview isn’t guaranteed to look exactly the same as the file would look if you opened it with the program it works with (a Word document in Word, for example). Even so, you’ll likely find attachment previewers to be quite useful if people email you a lot of files.


For more information on using attachment previewers, including a number of additional previewer oddities and gotchas, visit If you need to preview attached PDF files, you should also check out:

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